As expected, fight over Puerto Rico stalls disaster aid bill

A municipal government worker fills containers with drinking water for residents outside the Juan Ramon Loubriel stadium in the wake of Hurricane Maria in 2017. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Senate Democrats on Monday blocked a Republican disaster aid bill, saying it doesn’t do enough to help hurricane-torn Puerto Rico. The move tossed long-sought relief for victims of hurricanes, floods and western wildfires into limbo.

The vote escalated a fight between Democrats and President Donald Trump, who opposes further rebuilding aid for the U.S. island territory, which was slammed by back-to-back hurricanes in 2017.

The 44-49 vote fell short of a majority, much less the 60 votes required to overcome a Democratic filibuster. It sent GOP leaders back to the drawing board but seemed unlikely to kill disaster aid efforts outright, since there is much political support to send aid to Southern farmers, wildfire-ravaged California towns and Midwestern flood victims.

Trump allies such as Sens. David Perdue, R-Ga., and Rick Scott, R-Fla., are among the strongest backers of the legislation, which has already faced significant delays.

“We will get this done eventually,” Perdue said, promising relief to struggling farmers in his state. The path forward is not clear, but a leading option is for the Senate to pass a much more narrowly drawn bill simply to get the issue into a House-Senate conference committee. House Democrats insist the talks must produce a final measure with help for Puerto Rico.

The amount of money in dispute is relatively small, but Trump feels antipathy toward Puerto Rico’s government and Senate Republicans backed him up — for now — in denying Democratic demands for more aid to rebuild its badly damaged water systems and to ease the requirement that Puerto Rico financially match a portion of the federal government’s aid contribution.

Democrats say Trump has been slow to release already-appropriated funding for Puerto Rico and has exhibited little urgency in helping the island. Trump poor-mouthed the island’s government at a meeting with Senate Republicans last week and suggested Puerto Rico has gotten too much disaster help compared with states such as Texas, using inflated numbers to make his case.

“Just as we leave no soldier behind on the battlefield, we help our fellow Americans when there’s a disaster, wherever the disaster strikes. We do not abandon them. Period,” said Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

Trump sent a trio of tweets late Monday criticizing the island’s government and its officials and claiming money has already been allocated for Puerto Rico’s recovery.

“The Democrats today killed a Bill that would have provided great relief to Farmers and yet more money to Puerto Rico despite the fact that Puerto Rico has already been scheduled to receive more hurricane relief funding than any ‘place’ in history,” Trump tweeted.

“The people of Puerto Rico are GREAT, but the politicians are incompetent or corrupt,” he added. “Puerto Rico got far more money than Texas & Florida combined, yet their government can’t do anything right, the place is a mess – nothing works. FEMA & the Military worked emergency miracles, but politicians like the crazed and incompetent Mayor of San Juan have done such a poor job of bringing the Island back to health.”

The $13.5 billion Senate measure mostly mirrors a $14.2 billion measure passed by the House in January, combining aid to Southern farmers, California communities devastated by last summer’s wildfire, and hurricane-hit states such as Florida, Georgia and North Carolina. Hurricane-damaged military bases in Florida and North Carolina would receive rebuilding funds.

Democrats want to add almost $700 million more to unlock further disaster aid for Puerto Rico and several states, including help to rebuild badly damaged water systems. Democrats are also trying to force the administration to release billions of dollars in rebuilding funds that have already been approved.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the measure is the fastest way to get aid to the hurricane-slammed South and the badly flooded Midwest, along with nutrition aid to Puerto Rico, where food stamp benefits have already been cut.

“It’s our only sure path to making a law with anywhere near the urgency these Americans deserve. It is the only bill on the table with any provision for the Midwest flooding,” McConnell said. “And it’s the only bill on the table that could earn a presidential signature in time to deliver urgent relief on the nutrition assistance in Puerto Rico.”

The political momentum for the measure — strongly backed by Trump’s allies in Georgia, Florida and North Carolina, among other states — has only been heightened by massive flooding in Midwestern states such as Nebraska and Iowa, whose nominating caucuses are the first test for Democrats hoping to challenge Trump next year. The GOP measure would make Midwestern states eligible for more aid, and by blocking the bill, Democratic presidential contenders in the Senate are likely to face criticism.

Trump has yet to veto a spending bill despite some tough talk, and he has signed off on $600 million to ease food stamp cuts in Puerto Rico.

“I have taken better care of Puerto Rico than any man ever. We have $91 billion going to Puerto Rico. We have $29 billion to Texas and $12 billion to Florida for the hurricane,” Trump said last week. “They have to spend the money wisely. They don’t know how to spend the money and they’re not spending it wisely.”

Trump’s $91 billion estimate, said a White House spokesman, includes about $50 billion in expected future disaster disbursements, along with $41 million that’s already been approved. Actual aid to Puerto Rico has flowed slowly from federal coffers.


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Trump to escalate fight for wall to the end

President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Trump has shown he is unable to compromise. He has reacted to the past week’s defeats at the hands of Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats with what can only be called a rage attack.

He laid down the gauntlet in his Wall Street Journal interview on Sunday making it clear that he anticipates the Democrats holding firm on refusal to fund his wall. He told the Journal that he thinks the chances of a new deal being reached before the government shuts down again because of lack of funding in less than three weeks are “less than 50-50” and he kept the possibility of initiating another shutdown open. He is threatening to use emergency powers to build the wall if all else fails.

There seems to be some doubt in his mind about how far he is willing to go in order to have his full demands met indicating he isn’t sure he’d accept less than $5.7 billion for the wall, and also doubting that he’d open a pathway to citizenship for the Dreamers and those here on Temporary Protected Status.

He’s still not exactly sure what kind of structure he wants at the border telling the Journal “I have to see what it is. As long as it can stop criminals, gangs, human trafficking and drugs, I’m open to anything. But the only thing that will work is a very strong form of physical barrier.”

Trump is insisting on a wall. Nancy Pelosi is insisting that the Democrats will not fund the wall. There is no way out for Trump except compromise and that would mean defeat for him.

It is not difficult to predict what Trump will do and how he will do it. He has been humiliated by the Speaker of the House, who he insults by calling her by her first name. Nancy not only a woman’s name but a name it can’t be lost on Trump is also used pejorative to refer to an effeminate man.

I’d like to believe that Trump will not shut down the government again because he’s already tried that and it didn’t lead to him achieving his goals. The only reason I could see this angry vengeful man doing this is because relishes demonstrating what he sees as his personal power, not mind you the power of the presidency. He may want to exercise it any way he can and damn the consequences of the negative publicity.

Another shutdown will hurt a few million people but we know the president doesn’t have an iota of empathy.

My hunch is that he will declare a national emergency and declare victory.

What else might Trump do as he proves his prowess by using the powers of the presidency? This article In Foreign Policy is not reassuring: Trump Can’t Do That. Can He? On NATO withdrawal and other issues, it turns out presidential powers are constrained by norms but not laws.

If U.S. President Donald Trump decides to withdraw from NATO tomorrow, Congress might be unable to stop him.

That’s the conclusion a group of top lawmakers and some legal experts have reached, as Trump over the past two years has repeatedly bashed the alliance and extended olive branches to Russian President Vladimir Putin—even while his administration has taken some steps to support NATO.

The legal assessment is particularly worrying for some Democratic lawmakers in the wake of a New York Times report revealing that Trump had privately discussed leaving NATO. And it reflects a broader challenge that the Trump presidency poses on a number of issues, including trade policy, international treaties, and clean governance: The guardrails that curb a president’s powers are often traditions and norms but not actual laws.

An opinion piece by The Editorial Board in today’s New York Times doesn’t lead one to be optimistic either.  Saving NATO: The House voted overwhelmingly to block President Trump’s threat to quit the Atlantic alliance. The Senate should promptly follow suit.

It seems obvious that leaving NATO would be a foreign policy debacle, eroding American influence in Europe and emboldening Vladimir Putin, the Russian leader, who wants to weaken NATO so he can expand his political and military sway.

Despite all that, there is no sign that Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, would stop such a move if Mr. Trump were to make it, as he has repeatedly threatened to do.

Mr. Trump’s own skepticism has long been apparent. He has questioned the alliance’s purpose and hectored the allies to pay more for defense. Spending has risen, but it also rose under Mr. Trump’s predecessors, who urged greater military spending but never wavered in their commitment to NATO.

Now the threat is growing: Several times last year, the president privately told senior administration officials that he wanted to withdraw from NATO, viewing it as a drain on the United States.

Lashing out in rage the beleagued challenged and thwarted narcissist could be prompted by editorials such as this in the hated New York Times and could push Trump to let the chips fall where they may and withdraw from NATO.

UPDATE Jan 26 9PM:  Another distraction, and opportunity for Trump to flex his muscles and play superman has been foretold by an amazing demostration of ineptitude by John Bolton. A photo of him holding a notepad saying “Afghanistan -> Welcome the Talks. 5,000 troops to Colombia.” is circulating on Twitter. Read story.


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